Found in a brocante market in Cannes a few years ago, my Jean Cocteau scarf is a treasure that links me to the Côte d’Azur and modern art throughout the year. Wrapping it round my neck, I feel the warmth, not only of the ivory silk it comprises, but also, of my memories of summer sun. Folded, its surreal face print transforms. No longer a sea god’s visage entwined with graphic fish, it becomes further abstracted and hides its complete image.
As we move into autumn, such connections with holidays become more significant – a means to use dress, or in this case, accessories, to re-trace our steps – at least metaphorically, and maintain a connection with our summer selves. This scarf, with its pale ground and liquid design in blue, lime, yellow and orange, is my favourite reminder of time spent on the coast.
It is also a minor mystery – although it bears the artist’s signature, it does not contain a clue to its actual maker. This double signature – or in this case, lack thereof – speaks to both authorship and value. For this to have been a major flea market find, it would need to also have the name ‘Ascher’ skimmed on its edges, or that of a similarly august textile designer and scarf producer. While my scarf speaks of its artistic legacy, it remains silent with regard to textile history.
An original Ascher artist scarf can fetch in the thousands. Founded in the early 1940s by Zika Ascher, this textile firm made highly desirable silk squares that carried on their surface the mark of mid-century modern art. With such storied names as Calder, Matisse and Cocteau contributing designs, Ascher’s printed scarves became highly regarded and very collectable. They followed in a line of artist-led textiles, that includes Dufy’s work for Bianchini-Ferier in the early 20th century, and are part of fashion and art’s close visual and material interplay – discussed in Fruszi’s post earlier this year.
Cocteau’s own links to fashion and design abound. His designs have been rendered in embroidery and beading on Schiaparelli’s garments. And his interest in the ways his graphic forms might work in different media mean that his oeuvre extends to include book design and ceramics. His relationship to the French coast is also entwined with his art – and includes two museums in Menton, and murals in the fisherman’s church at Villefranche-sur–Mer.
It is interesting though, to consider where such scarves real value lies – in their silk fabric? The quality of their printed designs? Their link to a ‘modern master’? Or perhaps to the name of the textile or fashion house that spawned them? I would add to this list, and perhaps even nudge to the top of the pile, their value and meaning to their wearers. Accessories always have an intimate relationship to the body. Curled around your neck, warmed against your skin, they shape to your form, while adorning it and drawing emphasis to your face. As we know from endless magazine articles, they can transform an outfit, punctuate your silhouette and raise your fashion status. By wearing a memento of the South of France, I can feel and see its colours and warmth, connect to personal memories, while carrying my love of modern art with me, and display hints of all these elements to those I encounter.